Walking back to camp through the darkened woods, I reflected back on a job nearly done and tried to predict what my Mistress' next move would be. As a Magistrate of the Realm, she should be able to simply stride in with the information I had gathered tonight and accuse the Satrap Cynis Bonstrin of selling the property of the Realm for personal enrichment. She would send him back to his House in disgrace and the position of Satrap would be filled from another house. At least that's how it should work. These days a Magistrate had to be much more careful about how she does things. Without the Empress to back her decisions, she has to pick her steps much more carefully. The Great Houses no longer have any patience with Magistrates meddling in their business, House Cynis nearly least of all.
As I came within sight of the campfires, my senses began to tingle and the hairs began to stand up on the back of my neck. By this time I should have seen one of the camp guards. I should have been able to see shapes moving back and forth, silhouetted against the fires.
Getting back into the assassin mind-set, I crept forward through the trees. It wasn't long before I came across the body of one of the camp. They were scattered around as if a tornado had hit. Most of the soldiers still had their weapons sheathed. This had happened quickly... and brutally.
I stretched my senses to their limit and heard a commotion coming from the direction of the far side of the camp. The distinct, nearly unnatural sound of Jade Steel ringing on Jade Steel and shouting carried through the cool night air. This was the work of Exalted! Perhaps the Solar demons had ambushed us!
Moving through the camp as quickly as I could while still staying hidden in the shadows, I hurried towards the sounds. I didn't know what I, a mere mortal, expected to accomplish against the Anathema, but my feet were carrying me almost without my permission. My Mistress could hold her own, she didn't need my help. Why was I nearly running towards danger?
When I peeked from the shadows, the scene before me made no sense. Why were there dragon-blooded guards fighting here? Where were the Anathema? Who was inflicting so much damage on these Exalted troops of the Realm?
That's when I saw her, my Mistress. She was injured, but holding her own... against four Terrestrials! Any mortal would have died from the wounds they were inflicting on each other, but they barely slowed. The clearing was nearly blinding with the glow of their anima.
As I watched, she caught the wrist of one of her assailants as he brought his daiklave across in a low arch. With a grunt, she turned and threw him into another of the attackers. They piled into a tree directly behind them, which groaned and shook with the force of the impact. Nearly before she had released the assailant's wrist, she was flipping through the air with her sword poised to strike. The blow landed, point-first, into the shoulder of a third assailant as she landed behind him. She ripped the sword out (nearly taking his arm off in the process) and kicked him in the small of the back in one swift motion. He landed in a heap, twenty yards away. Two more attackers were already engaging her again before the wounded Terrestrial hit the ground. As one of them thrust forward with his sword, she spun like a bull-fighter, her sword piercing his belly, and grabbing his arm with her free hand, forcing him to continue his thrust, directly into the heart of the other. I couldn't believe my eyes! How had she directed the blade, held in another man's hand, through the arm-hole of another man's breastplate, with such speed and accuracy?
Just as I was thinking that there was no chance that she could fail, the unexpected blow came. The first attacker had picked himself up, and with obvious effort had closed the distance between himself and my Mistress. With her sword buried deep in the belly of one of her assailants, she didn't have time to react. I'm not sure if she ever saw the blow that took her life, but I will never forget it. My body filled with rage, and before I knew what I was doing, I was charging silently across the field, intent on killing or dying. I never noticed that I was filled with strength and speed that I had not previously possessed, nor was I aware that essence was filling me to bursting. I wouldn't have known what it was had I been paying attention anyway.
Before he knew what hit him, I dove over the wilting body of my beloved Mistress, and over the head of her killer. As I passed over, I grabbed his neck with both hands, and began to roll, head-over-heals, so that my feet would land first. With all my new-found strength, I heaved his body in a long arch over my head, slamming it into the ground in front of me. With a pivot, I used his body as a club to slam into the assailant with my Mistress's sword in his gut. As the both of them flew off together, I grabbed the sword in the chest of the dead Terrestrial and yanked it free with a spray of blood. Charging silently again across the distance to the assailants, I swung and had the head off of the first attacker before he had recovered. His anima flashed and died like a magician's flame. Changing grips on the sword, I drove it down into the neck of the second, extinguishing his anima forever. Hearing a groan from the bushes near-by, I looked and found the Terrestrial with the mangled shoulder, barely able to get up off of the ground. With one swift motion, I cut the hand off of his good arm, and had the tip of the blade at his neck.
"Who do you work for?" I growled. "Stop screaming, or you will be no use to me alive! Who do you work for?"
His screams quieted to whimpers. Why was a dragon-blooded Exalted acting so pathetic? All he managed to say at first was, "An-an-anathema..."
Rage filled me anew. "Why would you work for the Anathema?" I screamed, "You are an Exalted of the Realm! You are Dragon-blooded! Why would you..." That is when I caught the glowing reflection of a golden circle in his polished helm. There was the mark of The Wretched glowing on my forehead! He meant me when he stammered "Anathema." I dropped my sword, fell to my knees and screamed a primal scream. How could this be true? Memories of past lives that I had always assumed were remembered nightmares pressed themselves into my head undeniably. I was Anathema!
With me distracted, the wounded guard picked himself up onto his hands and knees and crawled away. He could go. I wasn't going to chase him.
When I came out of my stupor, I knew that I had to live. I had realized that these Dragon-blooded guards could only have come from one place: the Satrap. They were his personal guard and advisors. I had to live to bring vengeance upon the head of Cynis Bonstrin, and the heads of the household of Cynis, but my memories told me that the Wyld Hunt would be here very, very soon. I had no intention of being here when they arrived.
I gathered my things as quickly as I could, as well as my Mistress' armor and effects (I couldn't let them fall into the hands of the house that murdered her). Before I disappeared into the forest I buried my love, my Mistress.